Dear traditional romance publishers and anyone else who wants to listen, I have a case to plead: hardbacked romance novels. Romance novels with hardbacks. And I’m not talking about the beast with two. I’m talking about hardcovers. Hard. Covers. Romance hardcovers. Big, hard romance novels.
Why, you ask? I’ll tell you.
Most romance novels are published in paperback. That’s pretty much a given. For decades, the vast majority of romances were mass-market paperbacks, and now, while still the majority, they have been overtaken in public markets by trade paperback, their larger cousin. Mass market paperbacks are usually 4.5 inches wide and seven inches tall, and trades are 5.5 inches wide and 8.5 inches tall — basically the size of a sheet of printer paper folded in half. They both offer variable sizes of text and margins, but a lot of mass markets lose that center line to efforts to maintain page count. Hardcovers, on the other hand, are six inches wide and nine inches tall, offering space for the text to breathe — and much more versatile for things like laying them down on a table or lap to read without having to force it open.
There are a few Definitely Romance Novels that imprints like Gallery and Berkley will publish in hardcover first, and then release in paperback a year later — we’ve seen this happen with authors like Christina Lauren and Emily Henry. But most of the romance novels (that are Definitely Romance Novels, and not literary or contemporary fiction with romantic elements), if they get a hardback, get it as a small printing simultaneously with a much larger paperback run. Historically, this would have been primarily for libraries, but might also be available for purchase by the general public. And of course, authors who publish via Kindle Direct Publishing can choose hardcover as an option, but not everyone does. (I love my jacket-less hardcover of Christina C. Jones’s No Longer Afraid, for example.)
Okay. Great, you’re thinking. So you have some options for hardcovers. Why are you still talking?
I’m getting there.
A couple of years ago, I opened a much-awaited romance novel that was only available in mass-market paperback. I was dreading the experience; the writing dipped into the spine and the writing was tiny and cramped. What I hadn’t considered was that the new pain plaguing both my wrists would make the experience excruciating — so much so that I actually gave up on reading the print copy of the book and was wary of picking up anything else like it. While I’d found a little refuge in Mass Max, most of the imprints that had shifted to it have gone back to the standard mass-market size. I was devastated. So many potentially amazing books forever on my shelves, never to be read! (Yes, I can read them on Kindle, but the experience of both reading and collecting is different.)
Then one day, as I was engaged in my daily scrolling, I saw one of my favorite creators mention that starting with Wild Rain, Beverly Jenkins’s books were now being released in both mass-market and hardcover. This was a few months after the book had come out, and her next book, To Catch a Raven, was already available for preorder.
This was such a rare occurrence, I didn’t even bother to wait until closer to the release date. I went ahead and hit that preorder button with a vengeance.
The average non-romance reader is used to their desired books coming out in hardcover. They’re accustomed to a large, $28 sticker price whenever they want to acquire a new book. This is in part to many authors publishing books maybe once a year, and often even more spread out than that. So those hardcover purchases are happening a few times throughout the year. Romance readers are more accustomed to the $5-$18 sticker price, mostly because of the comparative number of books they read, and that are published. One book a year is an eon in romance terms, and many romance authors put out three or even more in that time. If I’m going to buy six books by an author in one year, lower price points are the way to go. So I understand, economically, why every romance novel doesn’t come out as a full hardcover run. Fewer books published, fewer books sold.
But wouldn’t it be amazing if every book was like To Catch a Raven, where the majority of the copies released are in mass-market, but there was a small run of hardcovers for those of us who want them? The average reader — who isn’t particularly a collector — would still be able to maintain their habit, but if they wanted a prized hardcover to keep on the shelf, or if they simply prefer reading hardcovers for accessibility or other reasons, they would have the chance to get them. Booksellers might decide to order more romance because it’s not wasteful to return what you don’t sell (unlike paperbacks and their tragic end, which often involves tearing off the cover and disposing of the rest). And we might see a whole new group of readers who see the true value of romance and decide to pick it up. Some of those people just don’t want to read mass markets, and that’s fair!
Also. I would have so many amazing clinch covers in my possession! Forever!
Have you seen what people do for Illumicrate special editions? Book of the Month? The Bonkers Romance Kickstarters? Lucy Eden’s Subscription boxes? People want pretty hardcovers, and romance readers don’t deserve to be left out of that. We should be actively courted with them, actually. Because we are great at telling the world how much we love things so other people will buy them, too.
So do me a favor, publishers? Think about it?
Our shelves (and hands) (and wallets) are waiting.